A Whitepaper on Equitable Representation in Food Media Publications: Well+Good
An in-depth look at how Well+Good is responding to diversity, equity, and inclusion within their organization.
Written By: Jenny Dorsey, Edric Huang
Last Updated: 5/17/2021
Context & Background
The term white paper came from British politics, where legislators would write reports analyzing details of specific issues, often offering certain policy suggestions and rationale for support.
Today, white papers are common in business-to-business (B2B) educational content; in particular, we see them as a tool to present long-term research in a structured way. Compared to other content, white papers are generally expected to be far more heavily researched, longer, and more academic in tone.
At Studio ATAO, we aim to use white papers to provide extremely detailed action plans that supplement broader call-to-actions from our toolkits such as “Hire talented, experienced people of color in decision-making roles” (Toolkit for Recognizing, Disrupting, and Preventing Tokenization).
This whitepaper and others like it are meant to break down what exactly needs to occur to start moving towards the end goal, while offering a realistic understanding of the challenges and considerations along the way. This way, we can proactively counteract the any fear of taking action due to "not knowing where to start."
We are NOT compensated by any publications included in these whitepapers to avoid conflicts of interest. We believe that by sharing information transparently, we can collectively develop higher industry standards for equitable representation that benefits everyone.
These white papers are 100% self-funded so if you do learn from this work, we hope you will consider supporting us financially so we can continue to pay our team equitably for their work. You can do so by joining our Patreon community as a monthly donor, or by making a one-time gift via GiveLively.
Overview of this Whitepaper
We began the process of this whitepaper with Well+Good (WG) in January 2021. Well+Good is a wellness and lifestyle digital media publication started by two industry journalists. In 2010. In 2018, Well+Good was acquired by Leaf Group (LG) as one of their fitness and wellness brands alongside Livestrong.com. To date, Well+Good has 10.1 million monthly readers (comScore March 2021) and 2.7 million social media followers across all channels.
Well+Good employs approximately 23 full-time employees, while Leaf Group employs approximately 370 full-time employees.
Our main stakeholders at WG were:
Tara Turk-Haynes, VP DEI, LG
Abbey Stone, Executive Editor, WG
Kate Spies, SVP and General Manager, WG
For this whitepaper, we will focus on three goals within WG’s wider DEI action plan and LG’s company-wide policies.
Reexamine, revise, and codify brand values and procedures for equitable content standards on WG
Implement systems to further diversify compositions of WG teams and contributors, and track against internal benchmarks
Engage WG employees with new DEI training and workshops customized to their areas of work
To accomplish these goals, five specific initiatives for WG were identified by our stakeholders for this whitepaper:
Area of Focus: Content
Initiative #1: WG Internal Style Guide
WG began work on an internal DEI Style Guide in June 2020, which serves as an addendum to the already-existing House Style Guide. The goal of the DEI Style Guide is to standardize the brand's use of language and scope of coverage to ensure it is inclusive and respectful of underrepresented groups. It was created in consultation with existing language guides such as the ADA National Network, AP Stylebook, The California State University Diversity Style Guide, Trans Journalists Association, and GLAAD Media Reference Guide. It is expected that all WG team members use the DEI Style Guide when commissioning, reporting, writing, and editing content across all WG platforms.
The guide includes:
1. Brand guidelines and best practices for addressing race and ethnicity; gender, sex, and sexuality; and people with disabilities. These are generally framed as “do’s” or “don’ts.”
Below are some examples around guidelines when writing about people with disabilities. When possible, WG will cite directly from a credible source — in this case, the American Disabilities Act National Network.
· Defer to “people first” language unless the subject prefers otherwise. Always ask the subject for their preference (e.g., “person with a disability” or “people with disabilities” instead of “disabled person” or “the disabled”)
· If the disability is not part of the story and there isn't a need to include it, don't.
· Emphasize abilities, not limitations (e.g., person who uses a wheelchair vs. wheelchair-bound; confined to a wheelchair)
2. Guidelines for coverage that are specific to each of WG's main verticals, including beauty, fitness, food, health, and lifestyle. For example, one guideline when covering foods with roots specific to a certain culture is as follows:
"If a cultural dish has been changed/altered, explain how and why clearly. We should only be altering cultural dishes for specific, understandable reasons—like providing a vegan or gluten-free version of a dish so that people with dietary restrictions can enjoy it. (Not just 'healthifying' it for no reason other than to make it palatable to a more mainstream audience.)
For example, this Sweet Potato Noodle Pad Thai recipe in this 2017 roundup. This was explicitly positioned as a “healthier” version of takeout solely because it used sweet potato noodles instead of rice noodles, when there’s nothing necessarily wrong with rice noodles."
3. Guidance around coverage of wellness practices that may be considered cultural appropriation when performed by someone from outside the culture of origin (e.g., smudging, Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine). These include recommendations for what is and is not appropriate for WG to cover and how to evaluate expert sources if/when covering these topics.
For example, matcha is an ingredient that WG has previously covered across content, including in recipes and commerce-focused stories. There have been internal discussions on whether matcha should be utilized in contexts detached from the traditional matcha tea ceremony. In order to make a decision regarding coverage, WG spent time consulting experts about matcha and created a public-facing article outlining WG’s official stance on matcha to set future reader expectations. WG plans to link subsequent articles that include matcha to this piece, to avoid contextualizing the ingredient from scratch each time.
The first version of the DEI Style guide was rolled out to the WG team in August 2020, and the editorial team was given a "quiz" to use to familiarize themselves with its contents. Now, new additions to the DEI Style Guide are flagged in team meetings and in Slack.
The DEI Style Guide is a locked document for control purposes; while the entire WG staff has the ability to view and comment on it, only senior members of the WG editorial team have regular edit access in order to ensure sections aren't changed without being vetted. Writers and editors are encouraged to bring up new topics not yet covered in the Style Guide (e.g., how to address substance abuse and addiction were added in November 2020 after being flagged as a blank spot within the guide) by bringing to the attention of their manager, commenting directly into the document, or by sending a message into a designated DEI Slack channel. These suggestions are then assigned to someone on the editorial team to research further, consult experts, review guidelines from advocacy groups, and present a cohesive recommendation to the team for inclusion in the Style Guide.
Since summer 2020, there have been bi-weekly open meetings for anyone from WG to discuss ongoing DEI initiatives. The core group attending this meeting is ~25 people across WG’s functions (e.g., editorial, design, operations) and the meetings last roughly 30 minutes. DEI Style Guide changes are often discussed in these meetings.
Initiative #2: Content Audit
WG publicly announced its plans for updating its content library via public-facing article in February 2021 (see here). The internal system for identifying outdated and/or offensive content that needed to be removed or revised to meet WG’s updated Style Guide includes two separate initiatives:
1. WG editorial team to incorporate DEI updates — revising content to meet brand guidelines — into their existing workflow of reviewing and optimizing top-performing SEO content. This is done by the WG editorial team at a cadence of 30 articles per month.
2. Articles including topics and terms flagged as culturally appropriative, insensitive, or offensive are revised by the WG team, in order of traffic received per month. To date, the process to do this has been:
WG team compiled a list of potentially problematic words that may indicate cultural appropriation, suggest a white gaze, or incorrectly represent a cultural practice when used inappropriately (or at all). This list of terms included words such as sage, shaman, guru, and chakra.
Third-party developers crawled WG to find all articles containing these words or phrases and documented them in a spreadsheet, organized from most monthly traffic to least. (In some instances, words like “sage” presented no issue when listed as an ingredient; those articles were removed from the spreadsheet.)
The WG editorial team members divided up the work of reviewing these articles, starting with the most visited pieces. For simple edits (e.g., changing “guru” to “expert” in the case of “fitness guru”) most have already been addressed. Articles that require greater scrutiny (e.g., larger rewriters, or potentially need to be deleted) are assigned to senior editors.
To date, approximately 200 of these articles have been identified and evaluated as part of this process. WG’s initial stated goal was to complete evaluation of articles surfaced during this first crawl within Q1; this has been amended to end of Q2.
On the video side, the same review over potentially problematic videos has been done manually by the video production team. WG has a library of 600+ videos, and roughly 20 videos have been removed entirely for depicting culturally appropriative practices. Examples of videos that have been removed include: How to Use Sage and Palo Santo in Your Home, A Cool Cocktail Recipe with Rose Quartz Crystals, I Got Full Body Gua Sha and Learned to Use It at Home.
Initiative #3: Diversifying Content Across Verticals
WG has pledged to diversify its eCommerce content by:
1. Ensuring at least 15% of the brands in the WG Shop (launched in December 2020 and currently in beta) are BIPOC-owned brands or businesses, then growing that to 30%.
2. Requiring at least 30% of other affiliate eCommerce content coverage to feature BIPOC-owned brands or businesses.
BIPOC-owned brands are determined by the founder self-identifying as BIPOC or the majority of co-founders self-identifying as BIPOC. (A brand with multiple owners but only 1 BIPOC co-founder would not qualify towards the target percentage, but may still be considered for inclusion on the site.) Right now, the percentage of BIPOC-owned brands is at 20%.
WG is also actively paying attention to the brands they are stocking and if they are inclusive. For example, if a brand purports to offer skin care for all skin tones, checking to make sure that is actually the case; or specifically finding brands that offer hair care or sizing that includes a wide range of options
For the former target, WG has been working with PR companies and working with their larger merchants (i.e., aggregators like Sephora) to bring BIPOC-owned brands onto their online store.
For the latter pledge, WG is tracking the percentage of BIPOC-owned brands being featured in its eCommerce articles via Airtable and Google Spreadsheets. The number of eCommerce articles per week range from 15-20, and includes singular product reviews and product roundups. WG has hit the 30% pledge since it started in August 2020.
WG has set benchmarks for representation and inclusion across its social media channels. In particular, WG has paid special attention to its IG channels (3 in total) and FB groups (2 in total) because they form the brand’s largest social footprint. On IG, the 3 channels are a general WG page, a food-specific page, and a beauty-specific page.
On WG’s main Instagram account, the goal is for 30% of coverage to amplify marginalized voices by highlighting issues that affect BIPOC and LGBTQ communities and/or featuring creators from those communities. This is primarily original content from WG, for example:
· An article about clean water, the Indian farmers’ protest, or how anti-racist educators are practicing self-care
· A profile of a Black-owned brand or a video featuring BIPOC talent
For the food and beauty IG accounts, the goal is that 50% of content amplifies Black, Indigenous, or creators of color. This coverage is typically in the form of amplifying existing BIPOC-generated content (through reposts), with ~10% being original content from WG (similar to the BIPOC content on WG’s main IG, but related to food or beauty).
The social media team manually reviews each comment and removes comments that are harmful (racist, sexist, etc.), but does not delete comments that express differing opinions or ask hard questions of WG. If comments point to WG as having caused any sort of harm, the social team will respond to address the issue, such as editing captions. The social media team notes that typically comments are not a major issue, save during IG Lives when hosts will occasionally be swarmed with trolls; in those cases, commenters are removed, blocked, and reported.
For WG’s FB groups (one for beauty, one for food), the social team has rewritten its guidelines to be more explicit about the type of content that will be shared and the expectations for the forum to be a safe place. For example:
Well+Good believes that healthy eating looks different for everyone, so we’re not here to promote any one eating plan, or shame or criticize anyone’s food choices -- and neither should members of this group
Words are powerful, and we never want the things we say to imply that someone should feel bad about what or how they eat. As such, you will never see admins or moderators using these words: cheat meal, guilt/guilt-free, junk food, indulgence, splurge, treat. We encourage all members to refrain from using these words when talking about food and cooking.
Otherwise, while the FB group members are very vocal these 2 spaces have not been a source of any contentious debates.
WG has also reviewed its top 100 best performing pins on Pinterest to update the imagery and words to be reflective of DEI goals. For example, some pins of stories that had multiple embedded images used the hero image of a white woman; many of these have been changed to be more racially diverse and representative of different shapes and sizes.
WG is also active on YouTube, with over 300K subscribers. One of the ongoing goals of WG video has been to actively promote increased diversity for both behind-the-camera (production) and on-camera talent. In 2020, WG set an initial goal that on-air talent would be 50% BIPOC. To achieve this, WG has been more intentional in scheduling shoots with longer lead times (i.e., planning shoots for July in March) in order to have more visibility to where there may be unequal representation (e.g., if three white fitness trainers were hypothetically featured in a row).
More about the process for diversifying video talent is under Initiative 4.
Area of Focus: People
Initiative 4: Diversify Freelance Contributor Pool
The freelance contributor pool at WG typically falls into 3 categories: editorial, photo/design, and video.
WG currently works with a pool of approximately 100 freelance writers and editors; roughly 20-30 of these contributors submit work for WG on a recurring, monthly basis. To track diversity within this pool, WG created an optional, anonymous survey that asks freelancers to self-identify their race and ethnicity. When the survey was finalized in September 2020, it was sent to all current active contributors. Now, it is sent to new contributors during the onboarding process.
Because the survey is anonymized, WG receives a snapshot of diversity in the responses that are compiled quarterly. Since Q3 2020, WG has seen a 50% response rate. Among respondents, the amount self-identifying as “white” has decreased 8% between Q3 2020 and Q1 2021.
WG is currently deciding when and how to update this diversity snapshot by removing inactive writers and resending the survey to the entire pool.
Photo & Design
Similar to the editorial Style Guide, DEI image guidelines have been incorporated into WG's existing imagery brand book and rolled out via an imagery training session for anyone selecting or creating visuals for WG's platforms.
Due to the sheer volume of content that WG pushes out, much of the photos being used are stock images from sites like Stocksy and Getty Images. Just before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Design Team was in the process of arranging photoshoots with a diverse set of volunteer WG readers, in order to diversify the models in these stock images. Given COVID, this initiative has been paused.
WG has restarted a limited number of photoshoots for its content, mostly for branded content. The team references an internal list of BIPOC freelance photographers and crew members whenever it is possible to bring them in.
Since Fall 2020, there has also been an initiative to work with BIPOC photographers to license their work, in perpetuity, for use in articles. The goal is to amplify independent creatives of diverse identities who shoot subjects and models with diverse backgrounds in a way that fits WG’s aesthetic. First, the WG Design Team compiled various databases of BIPOC creatives, both in-house (e.g., photographers from past photoshoots and crews) and external lists. Since then, the photo and design team have been reaching out to photographers whose work fills in certain gaps in WG’s stock photography database. Since beginning this process in November 2020, WG has been in talks with about 8 photographers, and is about to close a deal with one photographer, for ~60 photographs. The goal is to license at least 4 photographers’ work per quarter going forward.
This has been a slow process, partially due to the paperwork involved in the process and partially because WG wants to be intentional in this process. As one editor mentioned, “Selling your work in perpetuity is scary, and a lot of independent creatives may not know how much to charge. Sometimes I tell them, ‘No, that’s way too low.’” WG wants to pay all photographers the same rates for their work, which may be as much as 4x the price for a photograph on a stock site.
Sourcing talent for WG video is currently done through a Talent Management team. The team heavily utilizes social media to find new communities and networks, and following along to learn about interesting people that may be a fit for WG. For example, engaging with LA Hike Clerb, an intersectional space for BIPOC women to get into the outdoors, and considering one of their featured guides as a potential guest for videos, IGTV, or WG’s new podcast.
Another major challenge WG has faced with diversifying their on-camera talent has been pay equity, as WG previously only paid talent for the opportunity cost of their time (e.g., paying a personal trainer for a 2 hour session) instead of a set talent fee. WG has since switched to set pay rates for talent who are recurring and doing similar work (e.g., a host on a food show and a host on a fitness show), and pay bands for one-off or rotating guests. When talent negotiates for higher rates, the protocol is to lift everyone up to that rate (and for all talent in similar roles going forward) instead of offering a la carte “raises” to one person. In addition to new talent rates, any additional work product that talent contributes (e.g., an original recipe) is also paid.
For video production, WG typically works with a full-service production agency called Hayden5. WG has directly asked Hayden5 to work with them to bring more women onto set, and offered resources to find and support potential female production personnel. For example, an obstacle that has been identified is the fact women often do not own the video equipment necessary for shoots (while men often do), so taking on the cost of covering gear has been very helpful to widen the pool of production staff WG can utilize. WG has also developed a set of best practices for shooting on-camera talent, which are often women. For example, ensuring that the camera does not linger on a woman’s butt, or avoiding certain angles that may feel inappropriate (e.g., a top-down shot when a pilates instructor is sitting in a “V” shape.)
In order to track their progress, WG has been sending out an anonymous, voluntary production contributor survey after every shoot, to everyone who was on set - from the DP to talent to the makeup artists - it asks for demographic information such as race and ethnicity.
Initiative 5: LG DEI Projects - Learning Platform & Training, Hiring, DEI Council
DEI Learning Platform & Training
Eskalera is the new DEI learning platform LG has chosen to roll out across the company, starting with managers across all outlets in April 2021. The intention is to integrate DEI learning into the company’s regular operations, and require managers to dedicate time on a weekly basis to this training. The content is ready out-of-the-box, with an emphasis on inclusivity and introspection.
LG is requiring 100% participation in the Eskalera’s classes. In the long term, LG is planning to measure the efficacy of Eskalera through changes in employee engagement surveys via CultureAmp, which offers out-of-the-box-ready questions on topics such as belonging or personal and collective growth.
There are also DEI resources being regularly updated on LG’s company Intranet. (This is the landing page for employees to access departments like HR and tech.) The DEI section now offers information like terminologies, safe space guidance, a calendar of observances, updates across different LG brands of their DEI work, as well as DEI-related readings.
For all heritage months (e.g., Black History Month) educational resources are organized by time commitment. For example: 5 minute listens, 10 minute watches (e.g., short video), 15 minute read, 2 hour films. There are also supplementary virtual events employees can attend; recent ones included a fireside chat with Oscar nominee Kemp Powers, a conversation about Intergenerational Women in the Workplace, and a talk back on the documentary 13th.
In addition to Eskalera, WG has organized their own series of DEI trainings focusing on the wellness space specifically. Last year, Maryam Ajayi, founder of Dive In Well, led a five-part series on Diversity in Wellness. In February 2021, WG kicked off their second four-part workshop series, this time with Dr. Akilah Cadet of Change Cadet. After Change Cadet concludes in May, additional monthly training will be scheduled.
In analyzing past LG hiring date, LG has noted that they have over 50% of self-identifying female candidates. However, LG notes a disparity in the percentage of total applicants from marginalized backgrounds (as indicated through a voluntary self-identifying EEOC survey), and thus are working to recruit a more diverse candidate pool when it comes to demographics such as race, age, gender, socioeconomic status, disability status, etc.
There is an informal goal to increase demographic numbers of underrepresented applicants across the board by 3% over the course of 2021. To reach this, LG has just signed on Broadbean, a job posting aggregator service, to post new roles on a variety of hiring sites as well as Handshake to promote its roles to 1,100 colleges and universities, including HBCUs.
Hiring managers are also required to go through specific training via the incoming Eskalera platform as well as Udemy (approximately 1.5 hours a month). LG also provides articles about inclusive hiring via the company Intranet and Slack, and offers resources upon request for data or research assistance in the recruiting process.
Every week, LG also pulls demographic data from employees’ EEOC (equal employment opportunity commission) paperwork and offers this demographic data to executive management for review.
LG does not anticipate any changes to its interview process this year. Currently, applicants are tracked through Greenhouse and hiring managers review all resumes with a member of the LG HR team. All selected applicants then go through 3-4 rounds of interviews with different members of the brand they are interviewing for. All interviewers have scorecards with questions to ask; most of these questions are different from one another, but there is some overlap because interviewers are not required to ask every single question on their scorecards. Some examples of questions include: “What do you think your coworkers have found to be the most rewarding thing about working with you? What about the most challenging?”
DEI Council & Response Committee
The DEI Council at LG has 2-4 representatives from each of LG’s brands. The first company-wide DEI Council meeting will be held in May 2021 and quarterly thereafter. The goal for the DEI council is to update the group on what their brand is working on, what resources they would like LG to provide, and to come together to collaborate on a small business challenge that would create impact within LG. DEI Council representatives work on a volunteer basis.
In addition to the company-wide DEI Council meetings, LG meets WG’s DEI council representative on a bi-weekly basis to share updates. Most of the updates from WG’s side are pulled directly from the aforementioned WG DEI meetings that gather various departments of WG (e.g., editorial, design, operations). In these meetings, team members from each functional group per department (e.g., editorial, events) all report on how DEI initiatives are going within their respective purviews and ask for assistance if needed (e.g., talent needs more trainers with different types of abilities for a video).
LG is also in the process of building a Response Committee to discuss how best to address larger news, such as Black Lives Matter or the anti-Asian Atlanta murders in 2021, by splitting situations into red / yellow / green, and deciding what avenue (e.g., all hands meetings or company-wide email or some facilitated conversations) would be most appropriate.